Despite everything being pretty terrifying outside, we're in a pretty golden age when it comes to conversations about sexuality and gender. Growing up in the 90's and early noughties, finding books I could relate to as a gay kid was really bloody hard. Prior to online shopping being much of a thing, I didn't dare ask in bookshops for books that had gay themes - so I was left with occasional glances at a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover (which, heterosexual sex scenes aside, is really quite dull) to fulfill initial curiosity - and it was only through chance that I discovered Patrick Gale, who was the first author whose works I truly fell in love with, and who allowed me to discover a positive life for those of alternative sexualities, outside of the small town in which I grew up.
Thankfully, with the rise in popularity of Young Adult fiction today, there is a huge amount of material out there which allows young people to explore and discover different sexualities and gender identities - and I can't think of a better example than Heartstopper by Alice Oseman.
Back in 2016 (4 years ago, when we could do things like see friends and go to the pub. Ah...), Alice Oseman began writing Heartstopper as a web comic. Skip forward to 2018, and Heartstopper began becoming available in Graphic Novel form - with volume 3 released earlier this year.
Heartstopper is the tale of Charlie and Nick - two boys at the same school. They've never met, until the two are forced to sit together in class - and, from there, romance grows... Over the three volumes that are out so far, you watch the boys grow together, meet their friends, families and teachers, and genuinely feel part of their lives. It's rare that I become quite so invested in fictional characters, but there's something very real about Charlie and Nick that sucks you in, and I can't deny that I feel a real sense of connection with this tale of gay love at school - I was in the closet for most of my time at school but certainly felt the pangs of adolescent love.
Whilst some of you may roll your eyes at the fact that this is another love story about two cisgendered white guys - the accompanying cast are varied, diverse, and fully fleshed out, with a whole range of subplots that are massively entertaining, but also completely relevant to what young people are, I believe, going through today - although I should point out that it's going on for 15 years since I was in school!
These books are gorgeous - beautifully drawn and it's clear that creator Alice Oseman has a huge amount of love for these characters - they first appeared in her novel Solitaire. which I've not read but is very much top of my pile! I'm excited and cautious about Charlie and Nick's future - I know wherever they go, they'll be dealt with huge amounts of care, but also huge amounts of truth - so I have a distinct feeling it's not going to be plain sailing for them...
Check out Heartstopper on Alice Oseman's website to see where you can read it, and where you can grab a copy, and enjoy. I certainly did.